(CNSNews.com) – On the eve of a tightly-contested general election, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu nailed his hawkish colors to the mast with an interview published Monday in which he pledged that no Palestinian state would be created on his watch, should he win a fourth term.
A “two-state solution” to the drawn-out Israeli-Palestinian conflict has the support of Netanyahu's main opponents in Tuesday's election – and is an Obama administration priority.
Anyone who establishes a Palestinian state today or withdraws from territory will be yielding that territory to the forces of radical Islam, who will use it to attack Israel, he told Israel’s NRG news site.
Those who ignored that reality are “burying their heads in the sand,” he said, adding that Israel’s left-wing was doing just that, time and time again.
Asked directly whether “there will be no Palestinian state” if he returns as prime minister, Netanyahu replied, “Indeed.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined to comment specifically on the comment, given its proximity to the election.
“Obviously, our view continues to be that the only way to have peace and stability in the region is for there to be a two-state solution,” she added.
Some commentators characterized the stance as a reversal from a speech Netanyahu made in June 2009, endorsing limited Palestinian statehood.
That speech, at Bar Ilan University outside Tel Aviv, laid down two clear conditions – Palestinian recognition of Israel as the national homeland for the Jewish people; and a requirement that a future Palestinian state would be demilitarized. The Palestinian Authority (P.A.) has repeatedly rejected both.
Netanyahu’s comments underline the choice voters will have when they go to the polls on Tuesday. His center-left opponent, Labor’s Isaac Herzog, is a supporter of the “two-state solution,” along with the Obama administration and much of the international community.
Even more pressing for many Israelis are Netanyahu and Herzog’s views on a looming nuclear agreement with Iran. The prime minister’s warnings on the dangers of a proposed deal were stated dramatically in his recent speech before the U.S. Congress. Herzog, in a recent interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg,, said, “I trust the Obama administration to get a good deal [with Iran].”
In an opinion poll conducted shortly after Netanyahu’s Congress speech, 41 percent of respondents said they trust the prime minister more to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat, while 15 percent selected President Obama and six percent chose Herzog.
Still, in a campaign in which economic and social issues drew more attention than security, other more recent polls show the bloc led by Herzog narrowly leading Netanyahu’s Likud in the race.
Election realities in Israel give advantage not to the party garnering the most votes but to the one best able to piece together a workable coalition after the ballots close.
That places small parties – ranging from right-leaning ultra-Orthodox factions to economy-focused centrists – in potential kingmaker roles, as major party leaders try to reach their objective of a coalition controlling more than 60 seats in the 120-member Knesset.
Through the brief campaign, Herzog promoted an arrangement with political ally Tzipi Livni which would have seen the two share the premiership, two years each, should their coalition, called Zionist Union, form the next government.
But in an unexpected announcement Monday Livni said she was relinquishing her claim to a rotating premiership, a move analysts opined could either strengthen their combined chances of unseating Netanyahu – or backfire by raising suspicions that Herzog had forced Livni to step aside.